School will soon be out for many Tulsa students, and for families struggling with food insecurity this can mean an added strain on the budget. To address this need, the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provides meals during the summer break.
Nationwide, 2.28 million children participated in the program in 2012 and 39,000 sites across the country helped distribute nutritious meals to children. Participation has grown in recent years. Yet, studies estimate the program still does not reach the majority of children who qualify for assistance under the National School Lunch Program during the regular school year.
The USDA allows for different types of eligible sites under the Summer Food Service Program. Both types of sites depend on standards for free and reduced lunches set by the National School Lunch Program. Students are eligible for free lunches if their household income is at or below 130% of the poverty level. Students from households with income between 130% and 180% of the poverty level qualify for reduced priced lunches.
Under the Summer Meal Service Program, there are “Enrolled Sites,” where each family must fill out an application and the site must ensure at all times that a certain percentage of children are qualified for free or reduced lunches under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Enrolled sites, therefore, require more paperwork and administrative effort than “Open Sites.”
To qualify as an Open Site, school and Census data is used to determine if at least 50% of children in area households are eligible for free or reduced lunches. This type of eligibility helps target food assistance to areas where most of the local population is in need. Open sites must still account for every meal served, but they do not have to verify each child’s eligibility through an application, which cuts down on red tape.
Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) reports that 84% of their students receive a free or reduced lunch. Since four out of five TPS students rely on the National School Lunch Program, having Open Sites makes the program easier to run by reducing paperwork and restrictions, while still targeting neighborhoods where kids are likely to be hungry during the summer.
The TPS version of this program, Summer Café, kicks off on June 5th and lasts through August 1st. Dates and times may vary by site, as schools with summer enrichment programs may only offer meals during weeks where the program is active. But overall, more than 60 sites across the TPS district will serve breakfast and lunch to children under the age of 18. Locations include schools, worship centers and community centers. The full list should be posted at the TPS website soon.
According TPS, the program served 66,192 breakfasts and 103,754 lunches to Tulsa children during the summer of 2013. However, this represents just a small percentage of Tulsa children who are actually eligible under the National School Lunch Program. So TPS wants to spread the word about Summer Café, because they feel they could serve more children if they raised awareness.
One important aspect of raising awareness is to dispel myths about the program. One common misconception is that Summer Food Service Programs are only for young children, but the program actually serves children up to age 18. There are also no applications or documentation requirements for the programs in the Tulsa area. Summer Café will feed children regardless of school enrollment, citizenship or status. No sign-up or check-in is required of parents, either.
Across Oklahoma, other areas are also offering the Summer Food Service Program:
- Bartlesville Public Schools will be taking part in the summer meals program this year. Participating sites in June include Richard Kane Elementary, Hoover Elementary, and Woodrow Wilson Elementary, and Central Middle School. Participating July sites are Hoover Elementary, Woodrow Wilson Elementary,Central Middle School, and Jane Phillips Elementary.
- Claremore Public Schools calls their program the Zebra Summer Cafe, and times and locations are provided at their website.
- Union Public Schools will also offer free summer meals at various sites throughout the summer. You can download the list of dates and sites by clicking here.
- If you don’t find your school district listed here, you can locate free meals in your area by calling the toll-free National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE. You can also visit Why Hunger’s website to find more resources. Not only will they give you information on the summer sites, but they can also offer additional food assistance information.